Review: My Father’s House by Ben Tanzer

Editor John Barrios, Fiction, June 17th, 2013

Trying to piece together the mosaic of their shared lives...

my father's house ben tanzer
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John Barrios reviews My Father’s House, a novel by Ben Tanzer.

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Ben Tanzer’s novella, My Father’s House, is written in short, impactful chapters. This meditative novella sails along with a quiet sense of solitude while being enveloped in family turmoil. The narrator writes with a clear sense of honesty as he learns to live with his father’s impending death, and in doing so discovers a path back to himself. It is as much a study of dying as it is a deeply moving account of rebirth through self-examination. What champions this book is how Tanzer strings together the small moments of life into an emotional crescendo. My Father’s House is a beautifully described study of a family grieving the imminent loss of their patriarch, while trying to piece together the mosaic of their shared lives.

The short chapters set the reader up, and deliver one knock-out punch of a line after another, keeping the story, and the memories, flowing. The novella can be read in one quick gallop, but demands an immediate, slower re-reading. The multitudes of personal and familial revelations portrayed throughout My Father’s House are written with such sincerity, the reader feels as if they are experiencing a memoir. I do not doubt that some truth, borrowed from Tanzer’s personal life, bled into these words; however, the fictive tone is necessary for the ultimate emotional measure passed along to the reader. In this way, both author and reader are able to confront, experience, and transcend one of the most confusing times in a man’s life, the death of the father.

To this reader, it feels as though a lesson is learned in every chapter. The narrator may not always understand what he is processing, but the reader has a deep sense of the working of the narrator’s mind. It is a good place to spend an afternoon. Ben Tanzer displays his ability to balance the darker moments of grief with a humble sense of humor. It is not only Tanzer’s sensitive wit, but the timing and delivery of his humor within the structure of the narrative, which helps ensure the impact of the more dramatic moments.

My Father’s House sits alongside other recent notable small press novels about loss, like Paul Lisicky’s moving Unbuilt Projects, or Paul Harding’s beautifully crafted Tinkers. The book is summed up best by Tanzer, as he writes, “You go on somehow and not just because you have to, but because everything goes on and life does not wait until you are ready to do so no matter how much you want to fight it.” Learning to cope with this struggle, one we all face, sleeps in the heart of My Father’s House.

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John Barrios

John Barrios is a poet and musician. He has been part of the band Curious Hands for eight years. He graduated from Buffalo State College and chased his dreams in the Bay Area for a decade before landing on his literary feet in Portland, OR. Barrios was part of the original team at NAILED, and was a Contributing Editor until May 2014.